The kwanza is the official currency used in Angola. The kwanza is issued in the form of 1, 2 and 5 kwanzas (in coin form) and notes that are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2,000 kwanza notes.
The kwanza is recognised on the international market by the letters AOA or it is sometimes abbreviated as Kz.
The kwanza was first introduced in 1977 as a replacement for the escudo which was the currency in use at the time.
The kwanza symbolised Angolan independence, since it had been a Portuguese colony until 1977 and with the new country came a brand new currency: the kwanza.
There have been four different types of kwanza in circulation since 1977. The first kwanza was sub-divided into lwei which were made up of 100 lwei to one kwanza.
The second kwanza was introduced in the year 1990 and was only issued in the form of banknotes. Due to the inflation that this kwanza suffered, it was printed in denominations up to 500,000 kwanzas. It only lasted until 1995 when the kwanza was effectively devalued. The new kwanza was replaced with the equivalent of 1,000 old kwanza, effectively making the currency devalued by a thousand times.
This kwanza was also to be short-lived, lasting only until 1999. Then the current kwanza came into being. This is sub-divided (in theory) to 100 centimos, but the reality is that the centimo is no longer in use, due to the fact that the centimo is practically worthless. The kwanza is therefore the only measurement of currency.
Travelling to Angola
Travelling to Angola is not without risks. This is a country which should actually be rich, since it produces a lot of oil and diamonds and most countries that have natural resources like these are quite wealthy and the people have a good standard of living. However, this is far from the case in Angola.
Despite the fact that it actually produces the second highest levels of oil (in terms of African countries) in the area below the Sahara, it suffered a long period of civil war, which lasted from 1975-2002 and the country has never recovered.
Angola may be on the way to recovery and indeed has made some substantial strides over the last ten years, but there are still quite deep-rooted and endemic problems, which will take a long time to fix.
Angola has eased the hold that the International Monetary Fund ahs on it, through getting a $2 billion loan from China, and the rate of oil production is rising steadily year on year. Ironically it is now China's largest oil supplier, which gives the two countries a mutual understanding and there are interests for both countries in making sure that Angola is stabilised.
But for all that, Angola is corrupt – it was named one of the top 10 corrupt countries in the world and there are still ongoing problems with civil unrest and the risk of violence: in other words, it is not a particularly safe destination. There are also literally thousands of unexploded landmines in Angola, which again, make travel potentially very dangerous.
The capital, Luanda is possibly the safest area to visit, but most governments advise that travel to Angola should only be undertaken if it is really necessary.
Obviously political situations do change and so if you do want to travel there, just check with the relevant government agencies or departments that it is safe to go there, before you book our trip.
Due to the fact that there are thousands of people alive in Angola who have only ever known troubled times, it is likely that unrest can spring up at any time and it is a volatile country, due to the long history of unrest. Around 33% of its population is a migrant from another country or from a different part of Angola, so there is no stability within the population and there is a significant air of people having no roots and therefore not being bothered about how and where they live. This again contributes to the potential for unrest.
Crime is also a major problem in Angola. It is generally considered to be rife in all parts of the country, not just the cities and you may encounter anything from armed bandits to being subjected to a carjacking. Crime is more prevalent at night and so visitors are usually advised not to travel out and about at night.
There is an incredibly high instance of HIV and AIDS in Angola which presents itself in two different threats to tourists. The first is that people who have AIDS may not be too bothered about carrying out extremely risky acts of violence, after all they have very little to live for. Secondly, they may carry out acts of rape, which then run the risk of infection.
Foreign nationals were attacked in the north of Angola in 2008 and the group responsible said that it would continue to carry out such attacks whenever they came across foreign nationals. They also highlighted the fact that the attacks would take the form of rape, robbery and murder and presumably some people would be subject to all three.
Most travellers to Angola are therefore warned that they should travel there only when it is necessary and that they should use experienced guides and people who are familiar with the country if they want to travel to Angola. It may even be necessary to hire a security firm to ensure absolute safety.
For these reasons it may be necessary to take out a fairly robust insurance policy and one that will cover any expenses incurred when in Angola. If you try to take out a standard policy, you may simply find that no payments will be made if anything happens to you, since the country is deemed to be so dangerous. So check whether this country will be covered in the event of needing the insurance company to pay out.
That being said, travel is still possible and if you have made all the relevant checks and tried to ensure that you ascertain exactly what the security risk is and that you have adequate insurance, then you are perfectly free to travel to Angola.
Using Your Money
ATM machines are available in Luanda (the capital of Angola) but the bad news is that they do not tend to accept foreign cards. In addition, it may be asking for trouble to stand at an ATM machine and withdraw cash, even if your card were accepted. So it is better to take travellers' cheques as well as some hard cash to exchange, such as the US dollar or British Sterling. You can also use credit cards in some of the bigger hotels, but not generally in smaller hotels and shops. If in doubt always ask if you can pay by credit card before you buy something (or eat a meal) to save any embarrassment. In most places you can pay for items using US dollars, but the exchange rate that you get will not be as good as you would get in an official exchange bureau such as a bank, but US dollars will act as a good back up, in case you either spend all your money, lose it, or have it stolen.
Due to the continued high risk of theft in Angola always make sure that you have more than one way of accessing your money and split up your cards and money, always trying to leave some in a hotel safe or other secure place. Whilst your money may be safe from a pickpocket if it is stored in a money belt, it will not be safe in Angola, since a thief would simply force you to take off the money belt and hand it over, so do not think that your money will be safe if it is stored in this way. Moneybelts are only relevant if the threat is a pickpocket. Thieves know that foreigners will have money and they are not too choosy about making sure that they can access it: so be very careful.
Remember to spend all your money before you leave the country. It is unlawful to take any kwanzas out of the country and if you do try this, you will probably find that if it is found, it will be confiscated, you may even be subjected to more searches, if the customs officer thinks that you have something to hide.
For Those Who Must Travel to Angola
In Angola most people will not be able to speak English and Portuguese is the language that most people speak, so it will be helpful to learn at least some Portuguese before travelling there.
Eating and drinking is not as easy as you may imagine. Food is expensive in Angola (a legacy of the long civil war) and in most of the smaller restaurants and hotels you will probably be at risk from poor hygiene conditions, so it is always better to try and eat at the most expensive and clean place that you can find. There are hotels in Luanda that offer international standards, although these are not as cheap as you might imagine them to be- they do tend to have security staff nearby though, so you will always feel safer staying in one of these, or even eating in one of these type hotels.
Angola is slowly finding its way again after a hugely troubled past that has left the country clinging to itself with little hope for the future. But that hope is starting to emerge again and it is likely that Angola will become somewhere that will be a destination for select travellers who want to experience a little bit of Africa at its rawest. However, until that time comes, the country has to almost rebuild itself and get rid of the landmines, as well as the political unrest that has dogged it for years. The corruption that seems to be at the heart of government also has to be tackled and only after that will Angola be truly able to welcome travellers, rather than simply accommodating them in often somewhat inhospitable circumstances!